Monday, June 12, 2017

Hard: Hardgroove


I’ve written many times about how lucky I am to live in Tarrytown, New York, in part because the Tarrytown Music Hall is within an easy walk from my house. I’ve seen so many incredible rock and folk music shows there, that I’ve lost count.

This week, the musical landscape of Tarrytown got even better, as a new jazz club, Jazz Forum, opened last weekend, also within walking distance. My wife and I attended the early show on Saturday, featuring the Roy Hargrove Quintet, and were completely blown away. The club itself is beautiful—a minimalist L shaped space with room for 85 patrons without crowding and the walls are covered with art from local artists that will rotate over time. There is a gorgeous, specially made bar and a back room with comfy chairs and a pool table. The current menu is limited to dips and tapenades, charcuterie and cheeses, all of which looked delicious (we didn’t eat on this visit). The service was professional, friendly and not obtrusive, which was remarkable considering that we were at only the third show after it opened.

So, how does this fit our theme? Simply because opening a new jazz club is hard. Opening any business is hard, opening a music club is harder, and I suspect that opening a jazz club is even harder still. Google the statistics for new business failures, and you can see that it ain’t easy. But I think that Jazz Forum has a good chance to succeed. The main reason is that its owners, Mark Morganelli and his wife Ellen Prior know what they are doing. Morganelli, an excellent trumpeter and flugelhorn player in his own right, has been promoting jazz shows for almost four decades. He has promoted jazz shows and festivals in Westchester County and other suburbs for years, including for many years at the Tarrytown Music Hall and his connections in the business are myriad. Not only do these connections and friendships give him a leg up in luring top talent to play a small suburban club, Tarrytown’s location, an easy drive or train ride from New York, make it an attractive place to play and for audience members to come and listen. Also, I heard at least one patron tell Prior how happy he was to be able to hear such great music without having to head into the city. So, while the endeavor itself is hard, and it may be hard to keep Jazz Forum alive, I think that it will beat the odds.

Jazz it also hard, but Roy Hargrove and his band made it look almost easy. Hargrove was a trumpet prodigy, discovered in high school by Wynton Marsalis (a future Jazz Forum headliner? Maybe….), who has created a Grammy Award winning career, and regularly is considered to be one of the top trumpeters of his era. His soloing was incredible, but he also was willing to cede the spotlight to his fine band, fiery alto sax player Justin Robinson, subtle pianist Tadataka Unno, the rock solid Danton Boller on bass and creative drummer Willie Jones, III. Here’s a brief snippet from the show we saw, stolen from Mark’s Facebook page. You can sort of see us in the video, at the end, looking blurry.

The featured song was chosen for its title (a pun on Hargrove’s name), and not because they played it last night. It is from a project called RH Factor, featuring Hargrove and other jazz musicians along with non-jazz musicians including Erykah Badu, Common, D'Angelo, Meshell Ndegeocello, Q-Tip and Karl Denson. Hargrove has long experimented with “crossing over” to popular music, which is either a way to broaden the audience for jazz, or selling out, depending on the critic. The track is more of a soul/funk groove than a traditional jazz piece, and it really is great.

I know that my wife and I are looking forward to future shows at Jazz Forum, and thank Mark and Ellen for doing something hard to make hearing great jazz easy for us.

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